Kasper Schmeichel said Brendan Rodgers has “restored Leicester’s identity” after the Foxes closed in on a top-four finish with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.
When Rodgers took over at the King Power Stadium in February 2019, the Foxes sat 11th in the Premier League, 18 points off the top four and had scored only 34 goals in 28 games.
The ex-Liverpool and Celtic manager’s side missed out on the Champions League on the final day of last season but now will guarantee themselves a top-four finish – only Leicester’s second in Premier League history – if they win three of their final five games, although less than nine points may well be sufficient.
Schmeichel, one of few players still turning out for the Foxes who played a part in their title-winning side five years ago, told Sky Sports after their late turnaround victory how Rodgers restored a spark that had been missing in the East Midlands before his arrival.
“Brendan’s come in and done wonders for us, I think he’s the absolute perfect manager for us at the perfect time. He came in when we needed an identity, we needed to find our feet. Who were we after this amazing title win?” he said.
“We’d kind of been in-between a counter-attacking team and a possession team. We didn’t quite know exactly what we were, and he’s just given us a clear identity. He’s been so clear in his messages and how he wants us to play.
“And it was exactly what we needed, so I can’t praise him enough for the job he’s done and is doing and hopefully for many years to come.”
Iheanacho ‘just needed that luck’
Since the start of March, no one has scored more Premier League goals than Monday night’s matchwinner Kelechi Iheanacho, who netted his ninth strike in that time to keep up a sensational run of personal form.
More than a quarter of the Nigerian’s entire Premier League goal tally has come in the last eight weeks – having netted only 22 times in the 130 games beforehand. But Schmeichel said his team-mates had been well aware of the 24-year-old’s quality before he began to finally show it in competitive games.
“You see it every single day,” he added. “I think it was a case of him finding his feet here at Leicester, and obviously having a massive figure like Jamie Vardy in front of you in the system we were playing with was always going to be difficult for him.
“But credit to him in training every day since he’s come in, he works so hard. He does all those things in training, he just needed that bit of luck or that goal to go in for him to give him that confidence, that belief.
“Now you can see his partnership, his link-up with Vards, it’s a formidable front two. I’m delighted and proud of him and I think everyone in the dressing room, you can see, is just so happy for him to see that the hard work is paying off.”
Rodgers: Top four disappointment could have lingered
Leicester’s fall away in the last eight games of 2019/20 – winning only seven points in that time and missing out on the Champions League with a final-day defeat to Manchester United – was in danger of creating a hangover into this season had it not been addressed in the summer, Rodgers told Sky Sports.
There would have been a danger of history repeating itself had the Foxes not completed a second-half turnaround to beat Palace, which would have left the gap to fifth place at four points with five games to go.
Rodgers said: “You just sensed that might have lingered about if we didn’t address it. Over the course of pre-season we went away to The Grove, spoke about it, and took on the challenge of the coming season.
“Failing is integral to building sometimes, and even though we didn’t fail as such – we arrived into European football – I sensed there was disappointment around it. But the players have been magnificent, absolutely brilliant to this point.
“You go 1-0 down to Roy’s team, who are very well organised and defend with great discipline, it can be very tough. But we showed real patience in the game.
“I said to the players at half-time to stay calm, keep circulating the ball at speed, and in the second half they were outstanding. Jonny made a great tackle, but apart from that we controlled the game and scored two wonderful goals.”